We all have a network. It includes everyone we interact with or know. But what some of us don’t have is an active network. We may believe that building a network is all about having people we can reach out to whenever we need something, which feels a little selfish. Effective networkers, however, maintain a network so that they can be of service to others as well. This give and take is key to maintaining optimal networking relationships.
Imagine an electrical grid, with lines of connection branching out in all directions and you in the middle. You can see that the lines connect us to others and run both ways. When the grid is turned on, it is powerful and carries energy in all directions. If it isn’t turned on- activated- it serves no useful purpose. Just like an electrical grid, a network needs to be maintained. If we wait to call upon our network for too long, it may be in a state of disrepair that renders it less useful- in both directions.
I’ve built my network by keeping in touch with people I like and respect, not everyone I’ve met. This has allowed me to feel genuine and more importantly it has provided me with the opportunity to work almost exclusively with people I like and hold in high regard. This is one of the great blessings of my life.
Here are some tips for developing and maintaining an active network:
- Make a list of everyone you know, or should know, and should know you. These could be friends, business leaders, coworkers, etc. Consider drawing it out on a piece of blank paper. Put yourself in the middle then draw lines to your connections. Double lines for powerful, connections, single for good connections, dotted lines for connections that could be electrified with some effort.
- You can remove the people you are not fond of if you feel compelled to do so. You can also find something you like about them and focus on that. If you can’t find anything you like, move on.
- Designate a time and day of the week that you will use as your networking slot. Consider pairing your new networking behavior with an action trigger, an association that will remind you to reach out to someone on your list. It might be your first cup of coffee or tea. When you get that cup and bring it back to your desk, it’s time to send an email or make a call.
- When you are reading or otherwise gathering information, consider thinking about who in your network might also be interested. When you find something, they might like or might be helpful to them, send it. Utilize this gesture as a networking opportunity. Lastly, consider using all of the tools that you have at your disposal (social media, email, connections with associations and so forth).
Attending professional networking events is an effective way to network but isn’t the only way. Good leaders are effective at this because of their genuine intention to connect and give back.
One further thought; I have people in my network who have done an enormous amount for me. I find it very difficult to do anything for some of them. But I try. I also have people in my network who are not in a position to do anything tangible for me. The gift of their friendship and connection is compensation enough. I have also come to believe that when we do good in the world, it always comes back to us even if it doesn’t come directly back from where we sent it.
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